Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The fine line between cheap and thrifty.

My man Diesel pointed me toward an interesting bit of reading the other day. I had sensed from the manner in which it was sent to me that the Diesel views Arsene Wenger's frugality in a positive light, as the author does, which makes sense for someone as financially savvy as he.

Initially, the article garnered somewhat of a 'meh' response on my end. Then I got to thinking about it, and I don't know if Wenger's financial tactics are really all that laudable, particularly in a league with such high stakes as the Premiership.

Now, I understand that the Gunners are paying for their new stadium with team revenues only, which is quite commendable. And I am aware that brand-new stadia cost a lot of bread, especially when you aren't having local taxpayers fund it for you. Also, I concede that it would be nice, I guess, if the organization didn't hemorrhage money. But my contention with the sort of blanket-statement of "He's being smart by spending less" is that it, in itself, fails to address the core concept of value.

Value is, of course, the simple ratio of what one gets per what one pays. It is OK if you spend a lot of money, so long as you get a lot of silverware (ManU). Conversely, if you spend little and receive little, then what good are you? (Derby County) The fact is that championships brings fans, and fans bring revenue. If you want to fill stadiums and bring in the skrilla, you have to put butts in seats by winning. Also, in my view, the situation is made all the more significant by the fact that the EPL is essentially a 4-team league. When you're Arsenal, keeping up with the Joneses means putting up the required cash to compete with three of the best teams in the world. In fact, there are already pretty valid concerns that Wenger's spendthrift policies may end up costing the team valuable players, and, by extension, wins. Losing Hleb and Adebayor would leave holes that I doubt that Samir Nasri and Aaron Ramsey will be able to fill. It may be a sage advice to buy low and sell high on the stock market, but a strong balance sheet does not necessarily translate to notches in the win-column, as members from both sides of the salary cap issue are all too eager to impart.

And let's dispense right now with the rubbish that it is better to have an inexpensive player with future? potential than an established player with experience and skill that serves you now. Fans don't come to this week's game because the team will be good in 3 years, they come because they are hoping for a victory today. Affirming the contrary would be tantamount to saying that you like to go to such-and-such a restaurant every day because the food shouldn't suck so bad in a few years:


Person 1: "Man, this burger sucks; I think it is made of pigeon meat! And it cost me $10!"

Person 2: "Dude, stick with this place, man. With all of the money that they are making off of selling $10 rat-burgers, they'll have enough dough in a few months to start serving real beef! Besides, isn't this a nice looking dining room?"

Person 1: "But.....that assumes that they'll even want to buy real beef after a few months. If they've already established that they can get $10 for a 89 cent product, why would they ever upgrade their ingredients? Let's go."

Person 2: "That's not how I roll, Broseph. This imitation pork fritatta may make me gag, but it has tremendous upside."


And, getting away from questionable meat products for a moment, allow me to also put the pre-emptive kibosh on any 'quantity is better than quality' bullshit. If anyone else but Diesel is reading this, you may wonder what the hell I am talking about. In that event, execute a post search on this blog for 'Cat Skinner 2000', or a variant thereof. You should find a post authored by the D that suggests that having a large amount of cheaper, less competent cat skinners is the same or better than a fewer number of more expensive units, or whatever.

Although quantity does indeed have a quality all of it's own, this model for selecting sports team rosters just doesn't work....at any level. Why? Because only X number of players can be on the field at any given time. You can have a million Phillipe Senderos' on the bench, but not a one of them is going to be able to stop Cristiano Ronaldo. Even if you tied 4 of them together with bungee cords, put one oversized jersey over the lot, and convinced the ref that this constituted only one player, they would not have a prayer against that fairy on the wing. Another hole in this logic is found by trying to extend it into other, comparable realms.

For example, if I went out and got 3 day-laborers from the Home Depot and sat them at my desk, my job wouldn't get done (or done properly, anyway). Even if I paid them an amount that totalled among the 3 of them to be less than my hourly rate (about $7 per hour right now), you'd still get a bunch of garbled crap on the CAD drawings, and my clients would be considerably less likely to keep doing business with my firm. I'm not saying that I am better than these 3 men, but I am saying that, for now, I am a better engineer. Now, extend this to the sports world. Team quality is not an additive property of individual player proficiency. Sucks + Sucks + Sucks = Sucks.

P.S. Um, upon review, I realize that I may have built a few straw men here, Diesel. Please feel free to tell me off if I have put any words in your mouth vis-a-vis any of the supposed positions that I present as being contrary to yours.